Friday, December 25, 2009

A very goosey Christmas

Merry Christmas World!

It's hot here; not exactly the weather for a big heavy roast dinner. Goodness knows why we continue with northern hemisphere traditions like that, but we do, and it wouldn't be Christmas without sweating like a pig glowing pinkly while slaving over a hot stove and then collapsing in a stuffed heap. Even when I'm here by myself! I've been invited to a couple of places for Christmas dinner, but I'm not comfortable at other people's family occasions - even when they're my brother's in-laws. I will be going there this evening though to exchange gifts and see what Santa delivered to the children.

I fixed up my Christmas dress the day before yesterday - I originally made it with a rather fitting skirt, which promptly split as I was getting into my car to come home from my work party. Luckily I'd bought a heap of fabric, so I removed the original skirt and made another - extremely full this time, it's about one and a quarter circles:

I rather feel as though I need a frou-frou petticoat to go under it and make the skirt stand out!

I started this morning with a piggy breakfast of crêpes with lemon juice and sugar. It's my favourite way to eat an egg.

Notice the lack of whipped cream? Admirable restraint on my part I felt.

Next job was to cook the goose. This goose was a gift from my friend Stephen, it's quite a young goose, and a wild one. It required a certain amount of time with my eyebrow tweezers before I felt it was ready to go anywhere near other food items.

I've never cooked a goose before, so I consulted the web and Mrs Beeton for guidance. Mrs Beeton says the only way you can go wrong with a goose is to overcook it, and I found a hunter on the net who said to remove it from the oven as soon as it hits 160°F (70°C) in the thickest part. The thickest part is certainly the thigh; this particular goose has almost no muscle at all on its breast - possibly because it hadn't learnt to fly yet.

Anyway, I stuffed it with sage and onion stuffing, and tied it up with string before putting it in the oven. One of the really nice things about geese is that they have a large body cavity - you can fit a lot of stuffing in them. I also cut its skin to let any fat out - there didn't seem to be much, but Mrs Beeton said to do that so I did:

Yesterday I picked a bunch of gooseberries from my gooseberry bush, Mrs Beeton recommends gooseberry sauce with a goose (presumably that's why they're called gooseberries), and I rather felt like having a lighter and less sweet dessert than the traditional Christmas Pudding or trifle or pavlova, and thought I might make a gooseberry fool.

I stewed some of the gooseberries last night so they'd be cold by today. I put a little aside to have with the goose, and mixed the rest with whipped cream and put it in the fridge to set.

I peeled some parsnips and kumara (dry-fleshed sweet potato) to roast, and washed some potatoes. It's hard to get floury roasting potatoes at this time of year, and it seems a waste to roast the delicious little new ones that are in season, so I boiled some and roasted a couple. For my green vegetable I picked and podded these broad beans from my garden:

Far from having to cut the goose's skin to let fat out, I had to add some butter so I'd have enough fat to baste the thing in. It didn't take very long to get to 70°C though; only about three quarters of an hour, and I was a bit worried that it wouldn't really be cooked. But there was no pinkness oozing from the hole the thermometer made, so I took the bird out of the oven and put the veges on.

Here's the bird with the roasted veges:

Yes, I have quite a lot of leftovers. A bit silly when I'm off to Australia in two days, but you can't just roast enough vegetables for one person.

And here is my Christmas dinner:

A nice big pile of sage and onion stuffing in the middle, with some goose and gooseberry sauce, a couple of roast potatoes, a couple of bits of roast parsnip, ditto of kumara, and a nice healthy pile of broad beans, all coated with the gravy I made from the pan drippings and stock from boiling up the neck.

The goose was scrummy. Juicy, reasonably tender, and not gamey tasting at all.

I had to wait quite some time before I felt able to eat any dessert, but I managed eventually. Here it is, some gooseberry fool with home-made vanilla gelato:

After that I had to have a little snooze.

Now what am I going to do with the leftovers?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gingerbread men

The last time my brother and his family were in Dunedin for Christmas was two years ago. That Christmas I gave my nephew and niece a couple of old G3 iMacs (surplus to requirements at work) for their presents, and of course they wanted to spend all their time playing on the computers here instead of socialising with the rest of their family at their grandparents' house. So did their cousins, so I ended up playing host to five children aged from eight to twelve. I'd made gingerbread men to put on the Christmas tree, and they were a big hit - every time a child walked past the tree they'd pick a gingerbread man to eat.

It turns out that the gingerbread men are turning into a bit of a tradition; one of the cousins, who lives in Singapore, has been greatly looking forward to gingerbread men at "Auntie Bronwyn's house". I seem to have been adopted by the cousins, which is rather lovely because kids make Christmas Christmassy and so far I've not been able to have a Christmas with my grandkids.

Seeing as I hadn't yet quite got around to making any gingerbread men I thought I may as well invite all of the children out for a gingerbread making and pizza eating evening on Monday night. The boys made a bee-line for the computer as soon as they arrived, while the girls and I mixed up a big batch of gingerbread man mix and put it in the fridge to rest. Then we started on the pizzas, with the girls having fun stretching out the dough while I put the toppings on and baked them:

We had feta and spinach …

… chicken and brie with cherry jam underneath (photographed before cooking) …

… and meatlovers, which disappeared so fast I didn't get a photo. The boys appeared like magic as soon as the pizzas were out of the oven, naturally.

It's amazing how well boys and girls conform to their stereotypes. These kids have all been brought up in a very gender-neutral fashion, yet they're all very typical boys and girls.

After the pizzas had been eaten we got onto the gingerbread men. The boys having decided that their input would be confined to the consumption thereof, I set up three rolling and stamping stations:

Not all the gingerbread got turned into men; there were rather a lot of tiny geometric cookies made as well.

And then as soon as the smell of baking gingerbread started permeating the house, who should turn up but the boys, demanding dough …

… which they proceeded to turn into "turds" amidst much boyish guffawing, with the girls demanding "a bit of maturity around here please".

Here are the finished gingerbread cookies, first Beda's:


And Isabel's:

The kids stayed the night; the two boys in one double bed and all three girls piled into another. There was much giggling and whispering into the early hours and they were very very tired the next morning, but I do hope they're not too old to want to do this again the next time they're all in Dunedin for Christmas.


I have to apologise to the inventor of this recipe, I got it from somewhere on the internet years ago, and for the life of me I can't remember where. It's a great recipe though, and makes a good lot of gingerbread men.

Gingerbread cookies

1 cup treacle
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp vinegar
5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice

Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg, treacle and vinegar.
Add the mixed together dry ingredients and blend well. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (This is when you can make pizza)
Roll out the dough and cut into men or other cookie shapes. A drinking straw is good for cutting out holes through which you can thread ribbon to hang them on the tree.
Bake at 190°C for 5-6 minutes.
Decorate if you want to.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Shoe bycatch

That's what they call it isn't it? When you catch fish species you're not actually looking for?

This is a pair of shoes I did not go looking for at No 1 Shoes last Thursday.

I went looking for the shocking pink ones I haven't worn yet, and came back with these ones and the Poinsettia ones I wore with my poinsettia dress as well.

They're quite comfy, and I love the ribbon ties.

The Grand Cheese-Eating

Yesterday was the big cheese-eating day. I invited all of the people from work and bridge who had shown interest in my cheese-making experiments, along with my brother and his family and a couple of old family friends. Talk about nervous - I was terrified that none of the cheese would end up being edible, so I made large amounts of other things to eat for lunch, and then I was worried that I'd kill everyone with food poisoning or something. Much of the lunch food was also experimental!

The cheese I was really curious about was the cloth-wrapped Cheddar. It had shown many changes in the four months since I made it, first growing mould on its bandage, then becoming quite soft, and most recently becoming rather concave on top. I was convinced I'd find a nasty rotten mess when I finally unveiled it.

No such thing though. With much trepidation on the morning of the cheese-eating, I unwrapped it:

Then I cut it open:

Then I sliced a little bit off and tasted it. It was delicious!

That gave me a little more confidence in the rest of my cheeses, which I laid out on boards on the coffee table thus:

There were two different seeded Goudas and the Cheddar …

… sage Leicester, provolone and smoked provolone …

… Stilton and a very ripe Camembert …

… a fresh-ish Camembert, white Stilton, and the rescued curds from my first attempt at provolone (the recipe is wrong and caused me to pasteurise the curds) …

There was also a bowl of what I christened "Goodness Knows" aka "cheese soup". It was a cheese that started off being a blue, then it picked up some white mould and started smelling like Camembert, then it started to collapse under its own weight so I wrapped it in foil and parked it in the fridge and crossed my fingers. When I unwrapped it on the morning of the cheese-eating it had also picked up some red bacterial culture typical of a washed-rind cheese and smelled appalling; it also burst its crust. Despite all of this it actually tasted lovely (how brave am I to taste something so disgusting-looking?) so I decided to serve it instead of throwing it away, but I had to serve it in a bowl.

The lunch consisted of Pâté Grandmère (from Charcuterie), jellied pigs' feet, mesclun salad and tomatoes …

… Pâté de Campagne (from Charcuterie), more lettuce and tomatoes …

… beef rump cooked sous vide for four hours at 55°C, with horseradish from the garden …

… several loaves of bread (I was baking bread the evening before and all morning) …

… and some Porchetta di testa (fancy-pants name for rolled pig's head).

I also cooked up some of the sausages I've been making and freezing over the last few weeks.

The half pig's head cost all of $1.75, the pigs' trotters cost $3 for six, the rump was about $10 (on special for $9.99/kg), the pork I used to make the pâtés and sausages was about $20 worth of shoulder (on special again), and there was around $5 worth of chicken livers as well.

All in all, a very economical carnivorous lunch.

I also made some Eccles cakes (I don't like Christmas mince pies, this is what I have instead) …

… some panforte …

… some Christmas Cake …

… and I grabbed some wine from the cellar and beer from the beer fridge:

The verdict

A success. It just couldn't have gone better. The favourite cheeses were the "Goodness Knows" (the smelly almost liquid mess which I did not photograph), the Stilton, and the ripe Camembert, in that order. Everyone took some cheese home with them, as I'm off to Australia in a week and the cheeses wouldn't last until I get back. I had to ration the Stilton, because everyone wanted some of it.

Everyone asked where I got my bread from and was astounded that I made it, so that was a success as well.

I got many complementary comments about the pâtés and other meaty things, although the teenagers asked what everything was before putting it in their mouths (or not putting it in their mouths, in the case of pigs' heads and feet).

Tonight I have my nephew and niece and their three cousins coming to stay so they can make gingerbread men for their Christmas trees. We're cooking pizza for dinner too, it's going to be great fun. There's nothing like a house full of kids at Christmas time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Frock

Last January I bought five metres of poinsettia-patterned cotton from the quilting section at Spotlight. It was on post-Christmas sale at $1/metre, and I thought to myself I'd whip up a Christmas dress from it. People are always nagging at you to dress festively at Christmas for parties and suchlike, and reindeer antlers and tinsel earrings are not really my thing.

On Sunday I finally got around to making the dress. I only used two of the five metres of fabric, but the skirt is quite fitting (aka tight), so if I decide I want a fuller one I have the fabric there to fix it with. It does up at the low V- back with an old zip I salvaged from something else - you'd never know though.

Today we have our annual departmental strawberries and cream with "champagne" (Méthode Champenoise), so I wore my Christmas Frock to work. Here's the bodice part:

And here are the matching shoes I just bought today from No 1's sale:

I was wearing my red Django and Juliette dragonfly shoes to start with, but I got an email this morning telling me there was 40% off all ladies dress shoes at No1, so off I went. I'd had my eyes on a shocking pink pair for months, and it was now time to snap them up - and of course I found a couple of other pairs too. These ones are actually called "Poinsettia" - how could I not buy them?

They go with my frock perfectly!

Kevin at work, whose research is on plants and whose major interest is in anthocyanins, tells me that the cream poinsettias are mutants.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stephen's pizza oven

My friend Stephen invited me to his house on Saturday to eat pizza from his new pizza oven. We've been reading and drooling over "The Bread Builders" that I bought from Amazon a little while ago, and Stephen finally decided to just buy a pizza oven. I, on the other hand, am still mulling over the possibility of building a stone bread oven, and trying to think of somewhere at my place I could fit one.

Here is Stephen's newly installed pizza oven, in the process of heating up:

They actually produce very little smoke, and I'm really thinking I'd be happy with a very rustic, non-chimneyed stone one. Much easier to build without a chimney too.

Here I stuck the camera into the oven door and snapped in the general direction of a baking pizza:

And here is the pizza being chopped up:

Stephen and his wife have four kids, and the other guests have two teenagers, so I was lucky to be able to get a picture of a pizza before it disappeared into their bottomless stomachs.

This was my contribution to the feast (baked in my ordinary old electric oven):

And this was the contribution of the other guests:

Good old New Zealand classic Pavlova. That's a bought one, made by Cowells. Somehow or other they have developed a process by which they can make Pavlovas that are stable for quite some time. You just buy one and take it home and add cream and fruit to taste. They are very marshmallowy inside, but don't have quite enough of the outside crunchy bit. A perfect Pavlova has just enough crunch that you can hear yourself eating it, but you can't hear the person next to you eating theirs.

Sausage update

Remember these sausages I prepared a week and a half ago?

This is what they looked like on Saturday:

They seem to be doing what they're supposed to be doing, they're shrivelling up nicely and the only mould growing on them is nice powdery white stuff. Looking good for being edible on Sunday.

And here are some week-old Camemberts:

Don't think they'll be ready to eat on Sunday, but that's fine. I'll have them when I get back from my holiday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The best roast beef

Beef rump was on special at the supermarket on Tuesday, for $9.99/kg. That's cheaper than mince, and there's nothing wrong with beef rump! I bought a 1kg hunk for another sous-vide experiment.

Last night I vacuum packed it and submerged it in my waterbath, with the water at 55°C, and left it for four hours.

I'd made a cover for the waterbath the other day from some polystyrene I'd been not throwing out in case I found a use for it. This serves the dual purpose of keeping anything in the waterbath from floating, and keeping the heat in.

After four hours I took the beef out, unpacked it, salted it, and seared all of its sides in smoking hot oil. I used the juices that had gathered in the bag to make a sauce - added a bit of brandy and some smoked garlic and reduced it.


The tenderest, most succulent, roast beef I've ever eaten. A perfect medium rare all the way through.

And tonight I've been finding it very difficult not to keep slicing more and more of it off to eat cold with a dab of horseradish and a sprinkle of salt. It's just heavenly.